Top 3 Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom for Functionality and Fun!

Top 3 Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom for Functionality and Fun!

Can we just all take a moment and appreciate the beauty and SPACE that I had in my first classroom! This picture wasn’t even taken from the far corner of the classroom! I just pulled this up and immediately felt jealous of my former self for having taught in such a spacious classroom and not appreciating what I had!! Ugh! Appreciate your spaces teachers!

IMG_0005

A blurry photo of the first time I walked into my very first classroom!

Ok enough feeling sorry for myself! Let’s talk about classroom set up! I remember being PUMPED UP walking into my first classroom. How was I going to set it up? What cute bulletin boards would I create? (Surprise! My district didn’t allow cute bulletin boards. The walls were left blank to fill with anchor charts/student work!) How would I arrange? All of these questions were running through my head. I immediately started moving  stuff around and became overwhelmed because I really had no idea what I was doing! So… through the years I have set up many classrooms and will be setting up a brand new classroom in Poland in the next few weeks! I want to share my life changing (for real) strategies and things I’ve come to learn.

Most people save the best for last but that’s not my style!

  1. The Best Advice I Ever Got! – When I was a first year teacher, moments after walking into that beautiful space my teacher mentor came across the hall to offer advice about classroom setup. It is advice that I still use as a teacher and I feel you will too. Don’t recreate the wheel. Thousands of people have set up classrooms before you. Peek in and be nosey. Walk around your school and peek into other teachers classrooms. Look at how they have things arranged. Feel out their spaces. Use what you like, keep looking for what you need. I will admit that I am like the ultimate stalker when I walk into schools. I check out EVERYTHING. Now that camera phones are cool now (am I aging myself? But did you see that blurry camera phone picture above?) you can even snap photos of what you like and head back to see what will work in your space. Hit up Pinterest. Check out what others have done! Also when talking to teachers at your school find out what is required of your classroom space. Many districts have a list of things classrooms must have (a gathering space, places for anchor charts, a classroom library etc.) Look into this before you get too far along. Rule1
  2. Your Classroom Has to Work For You and Your Students – Enjoy your walk around the school and your walk around pinterest but don’t forget some ideas will not work for you as a teacher and that is OK!! Let me repeat, THAT IS OK! My first year all of the other 2nd grade teachers had their carpet in the library area and so I put mine there. The problem was that we actually sat longer in front of the smartboard. I moved the carpet and we were all much happier. Figure out what will work best for you as a teacher. This is like your second home so you want to be comfortable in your space there. Make Sure Your Space Works For You
  3. This brings me to tip number three!! Nothing is permanent. Everything can be changed! (but not too often! It will drive the little ones insane and therefore drive you insane!) If you love something and later it doesn’t work out CHANGE IT!!Nothing is Permanent

Now A Little To Do List!

Classroom Setup Checklist

Click here for a PDF of the Classroom Setup Checklist

Happy Organizing! Let me know how it goes! Once I move to Poland I will let you in on my classroom setup this year!

Could We Do That Too? Planting an Idea and Waiting For it to Blossom

Could We Do That Too? Planting an Idea and Waiting For it to Blossom

**Originally posted on my old blog 9-9-2015**

*Alternative title for this blog post: How I am Tricking My Class Into Doing Exactly What I Want*

One of the things I learned my first year teaching is that ideas are always better when they are from the students. Each year my goal is to plant the idea and have students suggest what we are actually going to do. I’ve learned a few lessons about it over the years. This year I have been ridiculously successful (seriously!) with this. I started to think, what am I doing differently this year? I don’t have definite answers right now but I have some theories that I am working on.

Maybe it is the kids. Let’s be real. Sometimes when you are successful as a teacher it isn’t about you at all. I would love to pretend that I plan out every amazing moment in my classroom but the reality is that I don’t. Maybe this year I have highly inquisitive, independent and motivated learners. Maybe they take initiative and are just owning their education… maybe.

But for just a minute let’s pretend that I am the mastermind of this situation. Here’s what I’m doing to plant ideas in my student’s minds.

I present them with research. Let’s talk about how I convinced all my students to read for 15 minutes each night, and some even wanted to read for 20! First, I had my own bookbag out in plain sight. My students would stop and look at the log. Some noticed that I have been reading at home a lot but not at school. I shared my reading life with them- my authentic reading life. It isn’t forced or fake.

cn2pfhsukaeqjef

First Day of School:  “Maybe some kids might want to read at home. I have plastic bags with everyone’s names on them. (Hmm… I wonder what those would be for?)  If you want to take books home come and grab your bag.”
7 kids take bags home.
Second Day of School: “I noticed so many friends brought home bookbags and read last night. Did you enjoy reading at home? Maybe some more friends might want to take their bookbags home.”
11 kids take bookbags home.
Third Day of School: “I was on the computer and saw this research that I thought I should share with all of you.

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 7.28.03 AM

Wow! What I’m noticing is that kids who read at home each night do better in school. What do you think about this?”
Student: I feel like maybe we should read at night.
Class: YEAH!!
16 kids take home bookbags. (That is my whole class!!)

I presented them with real reasons that made sense to them. So now my whole class was reading at home each night BUT I needed them to log their reading. I know there is a lot out there about reading logs and I go back and forth on them all the time. Is it worth it? Does it kill a love of reading? That’s another blog post in itself. I have come to the conclusion that if you use the log in meaningful ways then it is worthwhile. At the start of the year we started logging our read alouds on a class reading log (the same reading log students would be taking home… if they decided it was important). I made a dramatic big deal about logging in and out each time we read.
Finally a student asked me, “why the heck are you doing all that work for a piece of paper?” Wonderful, they noticed and were wondering why! I posed the question back, “I don’t know. What could I use this information for?”
Another student got excited, “You can see that one day we didn’t read very many pages because we had problems sitting at the carpet!” True. We had major issues that day. The same student continued, “Also we missed read aloud on Thursday because we had problems during snack.” Also true! Snack is a major issue in my classroom at the moment. Another student asked, “Well if we learn this much from it, should we log our reading?” I was so excited, “Wow! I like that idea. Let’s find out where reading logs are kept in the classroom and how they work.” BAM! All my kids started logging their reading because they saw a purpose to it. Now did those reading logs all come back? No. But sometimes you have to appreciate what you have and work towards what you want.

I made them wait for it. This year after attending a conference where I heard Lester Laminack talk. He spoke of the importance of building anticipation and making students wait for things. Typically I handed out writer’s notebooks the first day of school. We started writing in them right away. This year I decided not to hand them out right away but to just model with mine in an exaggerated fashion. My writer’s notebook is tabbed with many things. The most important is the tiny topics section where we save ideas for stories. Each time I was reminded of a story, seriously whenever I thought of a story, I loudly commented about turning to the orange tab and writing down a quick jot. Today my class was begging for notebooks. “I just want to write down all of my story ideas!” one of my friends screamed out while we were sitting at the carpet. So we finally got our writers notebooks . The whole class was so excited and had so many tiny topics to jot down right away!

I strongly believe that when students come up with ideas on their own, even when the teacher has planted the seed, they feel empowered as learners. We’ll see how the rest of this year turns out and if we can keep our momentum going. How do you foster independence and ownership in your classrooms?

Bon Voyage! I Have An International Teaching Job

Bon Voyage! I Have An International Teaching Job

In 2010 I studied abroad in Valencia, Spain. The experience was so rewarding that I knew it would not be my last time going abroad. When I first started teaching I knew I needed to go back abroad to teach and so I set myself with a timeline. I want to teach abroad by the time I am 25. During my first 3 years teaching the idea of teaching internationally seemed so distant. At times it felt like it was completely unrealistic. After a job change I realized it was closer than I thought and now that moment is here! While I am 26 now soon to be 27 I still have made my dreams come true! I could not be more excited about it.

Next year I will be teaching internationally in Poland. I am excited and nervous but I feel ready. It feels like the right choice. As a big believer in gut instinct, I think I am making a great choice. Get ready for some interesting and informative blog posts in the coming school year about international teaching!